by Dominique Fortier & Sheila Fischman (Translation)
An enthralling shell-game of a novel, in which past and present speak to each other to create a brilliant whole from three distinct parts, and merits comparison to the likes of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Peter Carey'sOscar and Lucinda.
On May 8, 1902, the entire city of Saint Pierre, Martinique - "the Paris of the Caribbean" - was destroyed when Mount Pelée erupted. Except for one man: Baptiste Cyparis had been in a dungeon-like prison cell that morning. When he emerged, it was as if to the end of the world. Eventually, he would be known as The Man who Survived Doomsday, and become the first black man to star in Barnum & Bailey's circus. In those same years, on the other side of the Atlantic, an English mathematician and his beloved, a musician, seek to explain the hidden rules that govern the movements of the earth, and discover "Love waves."
A century later in contemporary Montreal, two strangers come to know each other in a garden seeded with trees and crosses on the side of the mountain, witnessed only by a large dog and the pulsing city that surrounds them.
Her second novel richly displays Dominique Fortier's extraordinary literary skill, wit, and poetry, her ability to weave disparate threads into a golden tapestry that surprises, delights, and begs to be re-read the moment the final page is turned.
Publisher: McLelland & Stewart
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
This novel was written by an author who has an exquisite ability to evoke imagery in a way that is both understated yet powerful. She brings to life the oppression of Martinique for the slaves, the love that grew between two people who had difficulty connecting to others, and life in a modern city seen through the eyes of two people who seem to belong to an earlier time.
Although the themes tackled in this novel are strong, the book itself is subtle in its approach to them. In many ways, it's a collection of three short stories with a thread that ties them together, although if you're not paying attention, you could miss that connection entirely. This is not a hit-you-over-the-head-with-the-connections type story; rather, it leaves little traces behind for the reader to discover. I imagine if I reread the book, I would find even more small hints than I did the first time.
That being said, this isn't a quick or easy read. Despite an erupting volcano and life with the Barnum and Bailey circus, this isn't a book filled with action packed scenes. It's an understated story that deals with the human condition at the heart of it. The will to live, the bonds we forge, the sacrifices we make for those we love- these are the true themes of the book. To expect something different, in my opinion, would lead to disappointment.
Kat's Rating: A Good Read
I think this is a wonderfully written novel and a good translation of the original. I maintain that these could have been three separate short stories bound in a collection, and I wonder if that might actually make the book more enjoyable to a reader expecting a clear connection from one part to the next. I fear that some readers will miss much of the nuances of the book because they're focused too much on finding the connections. Read it without any such expectations, and I think you'll enjoy it.
I received a complimentary copy of this title from Random House Canada in return for an honest review.